The Nature Restoration Law
By Emelie Teumer
Abstract: The proposed Nature Restoration Law is intended to become a comprehensive law for all member states of the European Union. The restoration of ecosystems is at the core of this proposal. Currently, this proposal is under discussion. Parties, committees as well as member states have several distinguished concerns. The Nature Restoration Law is expected to pass before the end of this legislative period.
Vegan alternatives and sustainable living. Fridays for Future and Fair Fashion. Renewable energies and CO2 savings. Difficult terms and different theories. Earthquakes, floods and droughts. Adaptations and innovations: Climate Change.
Hardly any other topic has been discussed so much and so intensively in politics in recent years. Opinions differ, parties use it for their own political interests and often the question arises what it has to do with our own everyday life. The topic and the laws with all the technical terms are sometimes challenging and difficult to understand. But the decisions have an impact on people's everyday lives as everything is interconnected.
If the coral reefs are lost, the first to notice are the fish, then the fishermen and finally the economy with us humans. Losing the forests brings animals closer to us, increasing the likelihood of “zoonotic disease”. The best example is the Covid19 pandemic16.
On the occasion of EU Green Week, we are today presenting a legislative proposal from the European Commission: The Nature Restoration Law. It aims to become one of the first comprehensive continent-wide laws to focus on the restoration of nature17. A process that supports damaged ecosystems to become "healthy" again and more resilient to the impacts of climate change is understood as one of the most important solutions to the climate crisis6. In the words of Thomas Crowther, a professor of ecology at ETH Zürich and co-chair of the advisory board for the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, "Ecosystems and their biodiversity still hold the key of life on this planet"1 and thus conservation and protection is inevitable for a livable future.
The whole earth is made up of different ecosystems that influence one another. Plants, animals, weather, landscapes11 - everything works with and for each other and creates incredible things. The Glasgow climate package also emphasised the importance of ecosystems: "Protecting and restoring ecosystems, and managing land sustainably, has the potential to reduce annual net greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by more than 7 giga tonnes by 2030. It will also support adaptation, reduce climate vulnerability, promote biodiversity, and enhance livelihoods”15.
The positive impacts include: increasing biodiversity, securing nature's free services, preventing natural disasters. In addition, risks to food security can be reduced and politically Europe can act more resiliently and strategically autonomously5. Following the described urgency, as a key element of the EU biodiversity strategy and the fulfilment of international obligations in general5, the European Commission announced a new legal framework for the restoration of healthy ecosystems in October 2020. After being worked on in various workshops, the proposal for Nature Restoration Law was presented on 22.06.2022, with binding restoration targets and obligations for ecosystems. After the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety published their draft report with corresponding amendment proposals, a general agreement was reached at the Environment Council on 20.05.20239.
The proposed law pursues the overarching goal of long-term nature recovery in terrestrial and marine areas of the EU in combination with binding targets for specific habitats and species. For example, at least 20% of the EU's terrestrial and marine areas are to be in good ecological condition by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.
It also includes specific targets based on existing legislation for the respective ecosystems5.
Yet what does all this mean for us humans in everyday life?
We humans are sensitive to our environment - who is not aware that the cold and dark months sadden our mood, while in summer we are generally happier and more serene. In addition to general well-being, nature is also a safeguard for our health and survival: supportive, providing, regulating and cultural10. So when ecosystems are healthy, it automatically improves our health: by living in greener cities and the better air quality that comes with it, the possibility to walk in thriving forests, to have clean drinking water and to guarantee there is enough food available for everyone8.
In addition, new, long-term jobs are created - while restoration can be an economic burden at the beginning, it also creates stimulation for new green jobs12. Therefore, according to the impact assessment, "every euro spent on restoration activities generates a return of between €8 and €38, depending on the ecosystem"6.
To achieve the positive outcome of restoration and economic success in the future, the proposed law provides for the following implementation: After the law enters into force, within 2 years each member state is to submit restoration plans to achieve the goals. Regular monitoring and reporting by each country will allow for direct tracking.
How does politics react to the legislative proposal?
"From scepticism to complete rejection"13 there are all kinds of alignments with this legislative proposal.
The EPP is rather unsympathetic to most articles of the legislation as it fears it can create more damage to the European families and industries than benefits. By withdrawing from the talks, they are sending a clear signal - they criticise the fact that a future-oriented restoration is not to take place, but that the historical situation is being taken as a basis14.
The Greens, RENEW Europe and the Left support the law, but the Greens, for example, demand some adjustments to increase its objectives7.
Not only are there differences of opinion between the parties - there are also contradictory opinions in the committees. For instance, the members of the Agriculture and Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament rejected the legislative initiative on the basis of defending farmers and food safety2.
Member states are also sceptical: there are concerns about the drastic impact this would have on individual sectors, the Commission's excessive intervention or the timetable4.
If the law is passed, the timetable is indeed ambitious - what happens if EU member states submit a restoration plan that does not meet the requirements? Then it will have to be adjusted again, more important time will pass and let’s not forget that 2030 is now ‘only’ 7 years away.
Although it represents a quite exciting and necessary resolution, the clock is ticking - in one year, the next elections to the European Parliament are coming up. If the law does not come into force by then, new legislative work will have to begin4 and the future of nature restoration will be once again put on hold similarly to climate change.
1 Crowther, T. (2020, October 17). The global movement to restore nature's biodiversity | Thomas Crowther. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJX1Te0jey0
2 Dixson-Declève, S., Potočnik, J., & Polman, P. (2023, May 31). Healing nature will help us all. So why are MEPs fighting a key new restoration law? theguardian.com. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/may/31/healing-nature-will-help-us-all-so-why-are-meps-fighting-the-crucial-new-restoration-law-aoe
3 DNR Deutscher Naturschutzring. (2022, June 22). Das neue EU-Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung der Natur. dnr.de. https://www.dnr.de/aktuelles-termine/aktuelles/das-neue-eu-gesetz-zur-wiederherstellung-der-natur
4 Euractiv. (2023, April 21). EU’s nature restoration law in difficulty, despite climate policy wins. Euractiv. https://www.euractiv.com/section/biodiversity/news/eus-nature-restoration-law-in-difficulty-despite-climate-policy-wins/
5 European Commission. (n.d.). Nature Restoration Law. environment.ec.europa.eu. https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/nature-and-biodiversity/nature-restoration-law_en
6 European Commission. (2022, June 22). Questions and Answers on Nature Restoration Law: restoring ecosystems for people, climate and planet. ec.europa.eu. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/QANDA_22_3747
7 The Greens/EFA & Paulus, J. (2023, March 14). Bring back nature: why we need a strong EU nature restoration law. greens-efa.eu. https://www.greens-efa.eu/opinions/why-we-need-a-strong-eu-nature-restoration-law/
8 Gvein, M., & McKenna, D. (2022, December). Why is nature restoration critical to improving human health and well-being? ieep.eu. https://ieep.eu/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/7_-Nature-Restoration-and-Health-and-Well-being.pdf
9 Halleux, V., & Members' Research Service. (2023, April 20). A European Green Deal | Proposal for a regulation on nature restoration. europarl.europa.eu. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/carriage/restoration-of-healthy-ecosystems/report?sid=6901
Hilitanu, V. (2020, June 25). Photo. unsplash.com. https://unsplash.com/de/fotos/pt7QzB4ZLWw
10 National Environment Treasure. (2020, April 03). Why is nature important for humans? YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6U1Zq7-d7k
11 National Geographic. (n.d.). Ecosystem. education.nationalgeographic.org. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/ecosystem/
12 Noebel, R., Kampa, E., Gvein, M., Davis, M., Naumann, S., Iwaszuk, E., McDonald, H., Scholl, L., Aubert, G., & Underwood, E. (2023, January 12). Benefits of nature restoration: A new series of policy briefs. ieep.eu. https://ieep.eu/publications/benefits-of-nature-restoration-a-new-series-of-policy-briefs/
13 Simon, F., Taylor, K., Kurmayer, N. J., & Messad, P. (2023, May 1). The elephant in the room: How to restore Europe’s nature. euractiv.com. https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/the-elephant-in-the-room-how-to-restore-europes-nature/
14 Taylor, K. (2023, June 1). EU-Renaturierungsgesetz: EVP steigt aus Gesprächen aus. euractiv.de. https://www.euractiv.de/section/landwirtschaft-und-ernahrung/news/eu-renaturierungsgesetz-evp-steigt-aus-gespraechen-aus/?_ga=2.96881567.1440645898.1685613014-1148462980.1685613013
15 UN Climate Change Conference. (2021, -- --). COP26: The Glasgow Climate Pact. webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk. https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/20230401054904/https://ukcop26.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/COP26-Presidency-Outcomes-The-Climate-Pact.pdf
16 UN Environment Programme. (2021, June 17). What is ecosystem restoration? YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhjN8Xux2I4
17 UNEP. (2022, June 29). European Union proposes law to bring back nature. unep.org. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/european-union-proposes-law-bring-back-nature#:~:text=The%20Nature%20Restoration%20Law%2C%20which%20was%20introduced%20on,of%20the%20continent%E2%80%99s%20habitats%20are%20in%20%E2%80%9Cpoor%E2%80%9D%20shape